Unless you live on one of the coasts, getting to the beach for some splash fun usually involves a plane trip or a cross-country jaunt in the station wagon. Well, water lovers, take heart. There is a new breed of water park out there that brings that family fun a lot closer to home.
Quietly over the past few years, one of the icons of the American roadway has been developing themed water parks with the idea of bringing the beach to Middle America. Flume rides, hot tubs, splash zones, water slides, geysers, sprinklers, wading pools, spas, exercise facilities, shuffleboard, air hockey and foosball are all now available at a Holiday Inn near you!
Wait. Holiday Inn? That mainstay of the highway?
Yes, that Holiday Inn.
Actually, it makes a certain kind of sense when you remember that Holiday Inn was the first hotel chain to boast a pool at every property. That achievement, attained sometime in the middle of the last century, has simply undergone an update: Now Holiday Inn presents itself as a new kind of low-cost, family-centered vacation alternative. With 12 properties in some unusual, not-so-vacationy locales, a Holiday Inn water park makes a nice getaway for families who don't have the time, money or inclination to take a full-blown exotic vacation. Plus, the water parks are built indoors, so the family vacation is weatherproof.
I have to admit, this development took me by surprise. Who would have thunk? I decided to check it out, beginning with the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites in Maple Grove, Minn., the chain's 12th hotel-with-water-park, which opened January 30.
Maple Grove's water park, which covers 25,000 square feet and has a Venetian theme, encompasses an arcade, two four-story water slides, a 20-person spa, the Bambini Piscina toddler pool and an activity pool that features basketball hoops. The Venetian theme is carried throughout the park with cobblestone streets, gondolas, a twinkle-light ceiling and a replica of the Ponte di Rialto.
The hotel's two restaurants, Palazzo Ristorante and Concessioni, offer a variety of menu options from snacks to full-service meals. And, as at all Holiday Inn hotels, kids 12 and younger eat free when they order from the kids' menu and they are accompanied by a dining adult. You can't get much more kid-friendly than that!
The hotel has 136 rooms, of which about 50 are suites — some with the usual two-rooms-and-sofa-bed setup and others, geared toward larger families, equipped with bunk beds and Sony PlayStations. As a business traveler (as well as a family traveler) I appreciate that Holiday Inn offers high-speed wireless Internet access in its rooms at no charge. You read that right — none of that $9.99 a day surcharge!
Even more surprising are the rates. While they vary from hotel to hotel, they are generally very family- and wallet-friendly. Including access to the water park, the rates typically range from about $150 per room per night to just under $700 for a suite that can accommodate 12.
The Holiday Inns that have the new water parks are all in the Midwest, and include properties in Iowa, Ohio, Illinois, North Dakota, Indiana, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota. A sets out all the amenities, terms and conditions.
Holiday Inn is not alone in offering themed lodging in the heartland. , a lesser-known hotel chain, has sprung up with wilderness-themed properties in 10 locations, including such tourist destinations as Williamsburg, Virginia, the Pocono Mountains and Niagara Falls, as well as some less-visited destinations like Sandusky, Ohio, Grapevine, Texas, and Traverse City, Mich.
While I had been aware of traditional water parks for a long time, I hadn't noticed the hotel industry was focusing on them as well. Now I see them everywhere. A few years ago, , in Montego Bay, Jamaica, opened an outdoor water park (which is a little strange, because isn't Jamaica an outdoor water park in and of itself?) with the largest water slide on the island. You can even get a water park on the ocean: aboard Royal Caribbean's , which has a water park on the top deck.
I'm not sure where my kids and I will find ourselves this summer, but I do have some good friends in Minneapolis, and the kids do love the Mall of America, and the Minneapolis Zoo is pretty cool. Toss in a brand-new water park outside our hotel-room door, and Maple Grove, Minnesota, is looking pretty good about now.
John Frenaye is the president of JVE Group, Inc., a diversified company based in Annapolis, Md. With nearly ten years as a senior executive in the retail travel industry and a background in business management, he writes about the travel industry as an insider with an outsider's perspective. or visit his . Want to sound off about one of his columns? Try visiting